In the living room they still sat. Their eyes near-watering as the wretched stench of the downstairs bathroom wafted in. The Northwood Terrace roommate meeting was actually more of a precursor to what Welnot's hoped-for actual meeting would be: a poll to see what day was best for everyone to meet. Welnot was elated and enthused in that murderous circus clown sort of way that made you take a few steps back and hide the knives.
"Why can't we meet right now?" Leland asked.
Welnot, sweat-soaked and dishevelled still, depleted of almost every valuable cent of his typical self, having spent it all obsessing about this unknown turd in the bathroom and his growing hatred for Alex—the alpha to his beta—who sat across the room calmly scrolling through the contact list on his phone, near oblivious to Welnot's feelings towards him. Welnot queued up Wagner on the boom box and set it beside Trevor, who was still peeling away at the crusty bits on the arm of the sofa.
"Well, this is more of a preliminary meeting," he said. "We'll see what everyone's availability is and go from there." With the clasping together of his outstretched hands, what must have been hallway dust from his two nights spent by the bathroom door hopped from his hair, peppering Sarah's coffee. "It'll give everyone a day or two—or three, who knows yet—to sort out their thoughts on household matters, roommate grievances, suspicions..."
"Suspicions? Of what? Jesus, Welnot, you're not—"
"Suspicions, yes, suspicions there might be. Who knows, Sarah? Whatever views, impressions or assessments anyone wants to share, we're not going to put anyone on the hot seat yet. Give everyone a few days."
"So, we're having a meeting right now to decide when is best to meet at a later date?" Alex asked calmly.
Welnot jumped at the sound of Alex's voice. In Welnot's paranoia and growing suspicion of Alex's behaviour any word from his direction was threatening and cause for a salvo of defensive remarks. Alex was becoming a poltergeist in Welnot's life, haunting every one of his waking thoughts.
"Yeah, efficiency is key here guys. We don't want to have a meeting where only half of you are able to show up. Well, ha, fuck, we'd just have to have two separate meetings if that were the case, or three, or four."
From any point in the living room, you could almost see the fault-line impressions of high stress and anxiety tracing along Welnot's forehead.
"And then one person minimum present at both or all who can record the minutes from the first meeting for those in attendance of the second one, assuming not everyone who was present at the first could make it to the second. Then, genius," he sneered at Alex, reveling in the chance to really drop some Human Resource virtuosity on his stupid crew-cutter brainpan with the similar but slightly better smile than his own (but only because he uses Right Away White Away whitening strips on his teeth, Welnot would probably say to anyone remarking) "after that, someone would have to report to Meeting 1 with the gathered intel from 2, and someone from Meeting 3 would have would have to go to both 1 and 2 with the key discussion points from Meeting 3, and then..."
"—But we're all here right now."
Welnot, short of patience and just trying to keep it together, "I know! And it's getting off to a great start," he said with a huge, maniacal, Stepford sort of smile.
As if it were the cushions and chairs that were making them uncomfortable and not Welnot's manic managerial tactics, they adjusted themselves in their seats.
Signaling Getting Down To Business he pulled out a notepad with "I HATE ALEX" inscribed on the front in those same letters you see on passive-aggressive roommate notes in the fridge that look like they're comprised solely of hand-drawn angry eyebrows. Alex's eyes widen at the sight of the notepad and then even wider when a cut-out of his head falls from the notepad to the ground. Leland clutched Will's arm (Will: "He kind of smells like a dumpster now.").
Scribbling into the notepad like he's trying to cut into the last page of it, Welnot begins: "Sooooo, I'm busy tomorrow and Thursday. Friday, anyone?" Crickets. Dead silence like detention.
In the inaudible nullity of the pre-meeting's first minute Gertraud breaks through the silence to ask, "Can we flush the toilet yet?"
"No. Friday, anyone?"
The new chapter of Half-heard is published in The Coast—newspaper version—every Thursday. One week later it is published here online. So it's easy to catch up online, but best to stay ahead in print.